So much for the first 100 hours. The anti-terrorism measure sailed through the House faces a possible roadblock in the Senate where senators dont’ like its call for tougher screening for cargo aboard ships, a new way to divide federal security aid among states and other provisions.
Raising further questions about the bill’s future, the Bush administration said it opposed the measure’s collective bargaining rights for airport screeners, inspections of cargo on passenger airliners and the cargo-scanning requirement for ships bound for U.S. ports. A White House statement, however, did not threaten a veto.
An obviously delighted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced the vote by which the bill passed on Tuesday by a bipartisan roll call of 299-128. It was the first of six measures the House is expected to pass in its first 100 hours in session under Democratic control.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said adopting these and other recommendations of the 9/11 Commission were a vital step toward the goal to “protect the American people, to defend our homeland and to strengthen our national security.”
It is not clear how soon the Senate will take up the measure, which would enact many of the remaining recommendations by the bipartisan commission, which was formed after the 2001 terrorist attacks to suggest changes the government should make to upgrade security. The previous Republican-controlled Congress approved many of the commission’s proposals, such as reorganizing the nation’s intelligence agencies.
The House bill would also provide more funds to improve local emergency agencies’ communications gear and take steps aimed at making it harder for terrorists to obtain nuclear weapons.
Democrats provided no cost estimate of the package, but a Senate bill introduced last year to adopt the commission’s proposals had a five-year price tag of $53 billion.
Republicans warned that the bill would be too costly and require technology that doesn’t yet exist. They also assailed Democrats for posing as being tough on terrorism.
“Homeland security is too important to play politics when American lives are at stake,” said Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
The bill also would change the way federal security funds are distributed to communities around the country, giving more to areas considered at higher risk of terrorist attacks and less to smaller and rural states.
That is one of the biggest obstacles to the bill’s friendly reception in the Senate, where many leaders represent small and rural states that could lose money under the new formula.
The Bush administration said it supported the measure’s plan for distributing security aid.
But in a statement, it said it opposed provisions:
- Allowing inspectors employed by the Transportation Security Administration to have collective bargaining rights. The administration said these provisions were not recommended by the 9/11 Commission and would diminish the Homeland Security secretary’s flexibility to effectively manage the department.
- Requiring scanning of all U.S.-bound cargo containers before loading in foreign ports. The administration said the requirement, which might eventually apply to more than 700 ports worldwide, is not feasible. The administration is also reluctant to pass on to commercial carriers the significant costs involved. Last year, the Senate rejected such a measure after senators aired similar reservations.
- Requiring that all air cargo shipped on passenger planes be inspected. “Technology does not currently exist that would allow for physical inspection of all air cargo … without impeding the legitimate flow of commerce,” the administration says.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there has been a tug-of-war between the House and the Senate over how security aid should be distributed.
The Homeland Security Department has gradually been given more control over funds it could allocate based on risk.
But some money has still been guaranteed to every state. The new bill drops the amount from 0.75 percent of the pot to 0.25, or 0.45 percent for states with a foreign border. The amount of money available would be determined later in an appropriations bill.
(Parts of this report from The Associated Press)